Ferlinghetti, Creely, Kerouac

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“The Vanishing American Hobo”, “I am waiting”, “America”, and “Howl” all have something very important in common: they convey a sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are. Some may call it “whining”, but I like to call it “knowing that things can and should be better, and not wanting to settle for anything less.” Maybe that’s just the sociologist in me.

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Sociology plug. Source

For me, “The Vanishing American Hobo” had the most similarities to “Howl.” Like “Howl”, it describes the plight of marginalized people, living on the outskirts of society and not really having a place to call home. In both stories, people are discriminated against for the way they chose to live their lives: “In America camping is considered a healthy sport for Boy Scouts but a crime for mature men who have made it their vocation” (2977). In “The Vanishing American Hobo” it doesn’t seem like the hobos are doing anything to hurt anyone. They are being punished simply for being outside when it is deemed socially inappropriate to be so. People are afraid of hobos, seeing them as “the rapist, the strangler, the child-eater” (2977) because of the way hobos are portrayed in the media. Kerouac describes “hoboing” as a way of life that is interrupted by police surveillance and the media depicting hobos as dangerous. (As a side note, I liked all the references in this reading, from pop culture references to religious references – Br’er Rabbit, Shirley Temple, Einstein, Jean Valljean, Jesus, Buddha. It made the reading more relatable and enjoyable for me).

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“I am Waiting” kinda reminded me of the beginning of a Disney movie. The protagonist, a wide-eyed dreamer, sings an upbeat song about the miserable conditions of their life and their hopes for a better future.  (Exhibit A, B , C …you get the picture). Like the Disney characters, the speaker of this poem doesn’t seem to have a plan as to how he is going to achieve his goals and improve his life (don’t get me wrong, though. I love Disney). Ferlinghetti continually repeats “I am waiting”, suggesting a passive nature as opposed to an active, get-out-there-and-do-something-about-it attitude. This could be because he’s afraid to take action. He mentions “the Age of Anxiety” (15) that could be preventing him from doing something about his plight. He’s stuck. I also got the sense that although he hopes for a better future, he is also anxious about the future. In this way, the poem really resonated with me. I’m also anxious about the future, and at this point, still unsure what I’m going to do with my future. As my college career nears the end (one more semester after this one!), The Future is getting closer and I don’t know how to feel about that. At the risk of sounding cliche, I’m at a crossroads in life, and it’s pretty scary. So in a weird way, I kinda relate to these Beat guys.

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Howl

This poem was pretty confusing for me. I had to read it a couple times to just understand what was going on. It looks like the entire first section is a description of how “the best minds” (1) descended into madness. Among other hardships, these “best minds” suffered from drug addiction, were homeless, and attempted suicide. They also had a lot of pretty unsafe sex. Usually, when you think of “the best minds” you think of philosophers, or highly educated people like doctors or lawyers. By describing the best minds as a very different group of people, is Ginsberg saying that these hardships are exactly what make these people “the best minds”?

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In the next section, Ginsberg uses a lot of repetition to really get the message across. He repeats the word “Moloch” about a million times. According to the footnote, Moloch is a Semitic God to whom children were sacrificed. Yikes. And in addition to that, Moloch is just a pretty rough-sounding word. Ginsberg then compares “Moloch” to war, government, capitalism, and American culture. He emphasizes each statement with an exclamation point, really demanding the attention of the reader (or the listener). By comparing these aspects of America to the monstrous Moloch, he makes clear his dissatisfaction with the country.

In the final section, he addresses his friend Carl Solomon. He again employs repetition, by repeating the phrase “I’m with you in Rockland” after every statement. This section seems a little more optimistic than the previous sections. Rockland doesn’t seem like a very good place, but at least Carl is not completely alone. He stands in solidarity with the speaker, who has been in a similar situation and has an idea of what Carl is going through.

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I liked watching part of the Howl movie in class. It was interesting to see how much controversy this poem sparked back in the day. It was also nice to see the poem actually being animated as it was read. I’m a visual learner, so I remember things better when they’re acted out like that.

 

O’Connor and Faulkner

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Barn Burning” are both stories about dysfunctional families. The family in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” – consisting of a grandma, a mom, a dad, two kids, and a baby – don’t really seem to care about each other all that much. The kids are rude, to each other and to the rest of the family. The mom doesn’t say much. The dad seems very annoyed throughout the whole thing. The grandmother is afraid of making him angry: after the car accident, she was “hoping she was injured so that Bailey’s wrath would not come down on her all at once” (2781). When the Misfit’s henchmen are murdering her family, the grandma doesn’t seem to care, instead focusing on herself and the Misfit. The bond she seems to have quickly formed with the Misfit supersedes any bond she had with her family.

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The family in “Barn Burning” is even more dysfunctional. The young boy, Sarty, is constantly conflicted between family loyalty and justice. Should he listen to his conscience and tell the truth, or should he listen to his father and lie? His father, Abner, puts the poor kid in a terrible position by expecting him to lie to cover for his crimes. Sarty’s older brother seems to take his father’s side, and his sisters and mother don’t really say much. Another thing both families have in common is the lack of names for the characters. The grandma and the mom in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” are unnamed, as are the older brother and one of the sisters in “Barn Burning.” Does referring to these characters by their role in the family (grandma, children’s mother, older brother) suggest that this family role is more important than their individual identities? Hmm.

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The similarities between the Misfit and Abner Snopes are interesting. Both seem to be committing crime in response to being treated unfairly. In the Misfit’s case, he believes he has been punished unfairly: “I found out the crime don’t matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later you’re going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it” (2785). It seems as though he continues to commit crime because he believes he will be punished anyway, so might as well do the crime. He has been doing it for so long that he seems almost obligated to kill people. In Abner’s case, he burns wealthy people’s barns as an act of rebellion and frustration. As a poor man, he believes he is being exploited by these wealthy people, so he responds by destroying part of the property that makes them wealthy. Ironically, however, by repeatedly committing this crime, he is making his family’s situation even worse. They must live on the run in order to escape the consequences of Abner’s actions.

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Social class also plays a role in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The grandma is concerned with looking like a lady: “Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her would know at once that she was a lady” (2776). Foreshadowing? The grandma also asserts her status as a dignified lady with her constant references to the past. Like most grandmas, she insists that the world is falling apart (“Kids these days can’t go one hour without their electronic devices! Back in my day I actually played outside!”). According to grandma, her youth was a much better time, when people treated each other with respect instead of shooting each other. Another indication of the family’s social class is given by June Star’s attitude toward The Tower. She obnoxiously declares that she “wouldn’t live in a broken-down place like this for a million bucks!” (2778). She seems to consider herself above a place like The Tower.

A View From the Bridge

“Oh, there were many here who were justly shot by unjust men. Justice is very important here” (2824). This quote is at the beginning of the play, during Alfieri’s opening monologue. I’m not sure what he’s getting at here. Is he being serious or sarcastic? Either way, this quote sets up the theme of justice that is seen throughout the play.

Eddie has gripes with all the characters in the play. He reprimands Beatrice several times for having “too big a heart.” Later in the play, he condescendingly demands respect from her: “A wife is supposed to believe the husband. If I tell you that guy ain’t right don’t tell me he is right” (2861). Here and several more times throughout the play, he insists that Rodolpho “ain’t right” (code for gay) and adamantly believes that he only wants to marry Catherine so he can become an American citizen. He’s obsessed with controlling Catherine’s life, telling her what to wear and who to hang out with (and who not to hang out with). He even tells her “Most people ain’t people…the less you trust, the less you be sorry” (2830), as if he doesn’t want her to trust anyone except for him. His feelings for Catherine are different than one would expect from an uncle/father figure. He seems to have a sexual desire for her, even though he’s been raising her since she was little. Eww. (Also – aren’t Catherine and Rodolpho related? Wouldn’t that also be incest? But I digress). Anyway, Eddie can point out the flaws in everyone else, but doesn’t really consider his own flaws. His incestuous desire for his niece, for one. Also, by the end of the play, he becomes the person he criticized at the beginning of the play. He tells Beatrice and Catherine about the guy who called Immigration on the people living in his house, and makes them swear not to tell anyone. He even says to Catherine, “You can quicker get back a million dollars that was stole than a word that you gave away” (2831). But at the end of the play, he snitches on Marco and Rodolpho, tarnishing his own reptutation. Hypocritical? Desperate? Mentally unstable? All of the above?

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Another interesting aspect of the play is the role of women/wives. Eddie and Beatrice are waiting for Catherine and Rodolpho to get back from their show. Beatrice can tell that Rodolpho’s presence in their house is causing a sort of downward spiral in Eddie. But she has noticed a change in him since even before Rodolpho arrived (three months, she says). She asks him “When am I gonna be a wife again?” (2839).I took this to imply that they haven’t been having sex, as if having sex is her duty as a wife. At another point in the play, Catherine also comments on this. She says to Rodolpho “Then why don’t [Beatrice] be a woman? If I was a wife I would make a man happy instead of goin’ at him all the time” (2856). So according to Catherine, the duty of a wife is also to make her husband happy. Which is a good thing, as long as it is reciprocal and the husband and wife are on equal footing.But unfortunately that’s not always the case, especially in 1950s marriages.

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Actual ads from the 50s. (Source 1 and Source 2)

Like in Of Mice and Men, the American Dream is featured in this play. Rodolpho and Marco come to America hoping to achieve this elusive dream. In Rodolpho’s case, he wants to remain in America and become a citizen. In Marco’s case, he just wants to work long enough to make money for his family in Italy, and then return to that family. In both cases, the American Dream relates to working. But it does not seem to be as unobtainable as in Of Mice and Men. At the end of the play, it appears as though Catherine and Rodolpho are going to go through with their marriage. Presumably, he will become an American citizen and continue working there, maybe as a singer. (Speaking of which, here’s a link to the song he sings in the play). Is this the American Dream that he wants to achieve? Or is there more to it?

Of Mice and Men

It seems like a lot of my classmates have read this book earlier in their academic careers. I haven’t. But I did read The Grapes of Wrath my junior year of high school, and I was not a fan, so I wasn’t really expecting to like Of Mice and Men. I was surprised to find myself enjoying it. I think it was the odd relationship between George and Lennie that drew me in. In a way, George seems like a big-brother-figure to Lennie: he’s tough on him about some things (like the mouse), but goes soft when Lennie asks him to tell about the ranch. In an “aww”-worthy moment, he tells Lennie “We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us” (14). This ranch is everything they’ve ever dreamed of. It symbolizes the American Dream. But in retrospect, this moment is bittersweet. They don’t end up getting their ranch. The novella ends with George again telling Lennie about the ranch, right before he shoots him. It seems as though this novella is suggesting that the American Dream isn’t really attainable. People believe in it to give themselves motivation, but they will never accomplish their ultimate goal.

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The shooting of Lennie also provides an interesting call-back to the shooting of Candy’s dog. Candy loved his dog, but he agreed to let him be shot. The dog was suffering, and shooting him would give him a quick, painless death. Similarly, George is clearly pained at having to kill Lennie. But if he doesn’t do it, Curley will make sure Lennie’s death is long and painful. So George killed Lennie himself, to prevent more suffering.

The role of women in the novella is quite unflattering. The only woman actually present is Curley’s wife (it’s also telling that she isn’t even given a name). The only other women referenced are Lennie’s Aunt Clara, the prostitutes at the whorehouse, and the girl who accused Lennie of  rape. With the possible exception of Aunt Clara, women in the novella have no emotional connections with men. They only exist for sexual relationships. Curley’s wife tries to emotionally connect with the men on the ranch, but she is always brushed off. Partly because they’re afraid she’s going to get them in trouble, and partly because of traditional gender roles – “Ranch with a bunch of guys on it ain’t no place for a girl, ‘specially like her” (51). Maybe it’s because she’s always ignored that she seeks out Lennie to talk to. She’s just lonely.

Hughes and McKay

I’m curious about the speaker of the poem in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” It’s in first-person point of view, and the title describes “the Negro”, so you would think that the speaker is one individual. But then the speaker describes having known rivers from different time periods, from “when dawns were young” (5) to the time of honest Abe. So I think the speaker is the collective voice of the black race, from the beginning of time until now. “I, Too” seems to be similar in this sense. The speaker represents the entire black race, “the darker brother” (2). To put this poem into historical context, it was written in 1925. After the abolition of slavery, but black people were still very much discriminated against. The incident described in the poem – being sent to the kitchen to eat because he’s black – is just one of many ways they were discriminated against. However, the speaker is optimistic about the future. Soon, his oppressors will realize the errors of their ways: “they’ll see how beautiful I am/ And be ashamed” (15-16). Something I find interesting about this poem is that it starts with “I, too, sing America” but ends with “I, too, am America.” What’s up with that?

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“The Harlem Dancer” by McKay left me feeling unsettled. The speaker describes the dancer as beautiful and graceful, mesmerizing to the people watching her. But the last two lines paint a more dreary picture: “But looking at that falsely-smiling face, I knew her self was not in that strange place” (13-14). The dancer is putting on a show, but is secretly miserable. This situation is representative of the black race at the time. They put on a show for white people, pretending to be happy to serve them and perform for them, but secretly wanting to escape. They were not allowed to have an identity outside the identity that white society has constructed for them. This reminds me of “the veil” described by W.E.B Dubois. This Harlem dancer, and others like her, are looking at the world through the veil.

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“The Lynching” is similar in that it ends on an ominous note. The condemned man is depicted as Christ-like: “His Spirit in smoke ascended to high heavens” (1). But because this man is black (his “awful sin”), his death is celebrated: “And little lads, lynchers that were to be, danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee” (13-14). It’s very disturbing that children, who are normally described as innocent, would get pleasure from dancing around a dead body. It goes to show how prominent racism was, and that it showed no signs of getting better.

Passing, part 2

I’ll start by saying that I think Irene pushed her. First of all, she’s the one who opened the ill-fated window: “It seems dreadfully warm in here. Mind if I open this window?” (2237). She claims that it’s warm, but everyone else says that it’s cold. Maybe she was (subconsciously?) planning Clare’s murder from the moment she opened that window. Soon after, John Bellew storms into the party spewing racism and demanding answers from Clare. Clare is pretty unfazed; she just smiles her famous smile. Irene won’t have that: “She couldn’t have Clare Kendry cast aside by Bellew. She couldn’t have her free” (2238). Irene conveniently doesn’t remember the details of what happened next (repression of a traumatic memory?), but she does remember putting her hand on Clare’s arm. She also acts pretty sketchy after Clare goes flying out the window. Irene is very much not sorry that Clare is dead, and is nauseated by the thought that she might have survived the fall. When she finally goes down the stairs to meet everyone else, she cries hysterically and then faints. Looks to me like her guilt for murdering Clare is catching up to her.

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Another point of interest in Passing is the similarities between Clare and Irene. Clare openly admits that “To get the things I want badly enough, I’d do anything, hurt anybody, throw anything away” (2219). Irene is critical of Clare’s “having” nature and her lack of concern for anyone but herself. But Irene is also pretty selfish. She just doesn’t openly admit to it like Clare does. About her husband, Irene reflects: “It was only that she wanted him to be happy, resenting, however, his inability to be so with things as they were, and never acknowledging that though she did want him to be happy, it was only in her own way and by some plan of hers for him that she truly desired him to be so” (2205). So basically, she wants him to be happy, but only by her own terms. Her sense of security is most important to her. Clare disrupts this sense of security, which is why Irene takes such drastic measures to get rid of her.

Passing, part 1

I’m intrigued by Irene and Clare’s relationship. They were friends when they were young, and twelve years later, they meet again. What brings them together? (Fate? Destiny? A horse?) Irene seems attracted to Clare, frequently commenting on her captivating eyes and mischievous smile. When they’re talking on the roof of the hotel, Irene keeps saying she must leave, but she stays for a while longer. She can’t seem to pull herself away. She even invites Clare to spend the weekend with her in Idlewild, and then immediately regrets it (although Clare declines the invitation). She wants to get rid of Clare, but at the same time, she is inexplicably drawn to her. When they finally do part, Irene insists that “she was through with Clare Kendry” (2186) but she eventually agrees to meet her again. For Clare’s part, her attempts to meet with Irene seem almost fake in their extravagance. She says things like “The others can see you any time, while I – Why, I may never see you again! Think of that, ‘Rene! You’ll have to come. You’ll simply have to! I’ll never forgive you if you don’t!” (2185). Guilt trip. Two years later, in her letter, she is even more fawning and guilt-trippy: “…For I am lonely, so lonely…cannot help longing to be with you again, as I have never longed for anything before; and I have wanted many things in life…and it’s your fault, ‘Rene dear. At least partly. For I wouldn’t now, perhaps, have this terrible, this wild desire if I hadn’t seen you that time in Chicago…” (2172). I’m not sure what to make of her unyielding attempts to spend time with Irene. Does she really enjoy her company that much, or is she just using her for something?

I’m also intrigued by the themes of racial identity. At first, I was confused when Clare asks Irene if she has ever thought of “passing” and Irene immediately answers “No. Why should I?” (2184) with disdain. I was under the impression that Irene was passing as white, at least sometimes. Earlier, when Clare was staring at her and Irene didn’t yet recognize her, Irene was afraid that this “rude observer” knew that she was a Negro. So in this moment, she was “passing” as white so she wouldn’t be kicked out of the restaurant. As I continued to read, however, I discovered that Clare and Irene’s experiences with “passing” are very different. Essentially, Clare’s entire life consists of “passing”, since even her husband thinks she is white. This husband also happens to be a major racist. In Irene’s case, she only “passes”in certain situations, such as the situation in the restaurant. These instances of “passing” don’t alter her racial identity as much as Clare’s “passing” alters hers. In Irene’s case, “it wasn’t that she was ashamed of being a Negro, or even of having it declared. It was the idea of being ejected from any place, even in the polite and tactful way in which the Drayton would probably do it, that disturbed her” (2175). Clare, however, does seem ashamed of being a Negro, as she makes some disparaging comments about Negroes through the story (“colored people – we – are too silly about some things” (2190)). She distances herself from her Negro identity.